Amanda Carlson-Phillips on the Use of DXA Performance Data at the NFL Combine – Part 2
In part one of our conversation with Amanda Carlson-Phillips, MS, RD, CSSD, she walked us through the recent acquisition of Discovery DXA system by Exos, the elite performance center where she serves as Senior Vice President and Head of Performance Innovation. Through the use of DXA technology from Hologic®, the center has been able to further connect data across silos and improve the evaluation of asymmetries that can impact athlete performance.
Now, during part two of our series discussing Exos’ use of DXA technology, Carlson-Phillips shares with us how the system is used during the NFL Combine to dive deeper into athlete performance and prepare players for professional recruitment.
Kicking Off DXA at the NFL Combine
Some of the arguably most exciting, and definitely most high-profile, work Exos does is with the NFL Combine. Exos has 20 years of Combine and Pro Day training experience and has seen over a thousand athletes drafted through 206 first-round picks. We were especially interested to talk to Carlson-Phillips about how performance data has played a role in these numbers, and how she expects Discovery DXA system to further support the program.
She walked us through the Combine process, which begins with athletes who are done with their collegiate career and train with Exos until going to Indianapolis for scouting. She noted assessment is the most important first step, both for athletes in the NFL Combine and anyone embarking on any sort of journey, because “If you don’t know where you are and don’t understand your goals, then we can’t help you get to where you want to be.” At Exos, that means “all athletes have a DXA scan to help establish their baseline, and that starts the programming drive from there.”
In addition to significant physical training and coaching, Carlson-Phillips also described the use of these data points by dieticians and nutritionists. “Athletes need to go into their sessions fueled so they can do the work, and then have the right nutrition to drive recovery from that work, and then do it all again the next day. So being able to have a very confident and high-fidelity understanding of [their] lean body mass and fat mass gives our dieticians the ability to prescribe with even more granularity.”
In the words of an Exos Dietician describing the results of DXA evaluation during the Combine, “The guys loved seeing the details of their results. From the first scan to the second (~4 week time period) they saw some drastic positive changes which was very motivating for them after 4 weeks of intense training … almost a reassurance that the work they were putting in was definitely paying off and helped keep them going.”1
Discovery DXA system can help evaluate the success of sports, diet, and fitness interventions because of its ability to simultaneously measure bone, lean, and fat mass status,2 so it makes sense it’s so useful in a program like the Combine in terms of both aiding trainer recommendations and boosting athlete motivation.
The “granularity” Carlson-Phillips previously described includes specific recommendations around protein and caloric needs, as well as plans for pre-, during, and post-workout nutrition for Combine players. As she put it, “We’ve been doing that forever—but now [with Discovery DXA system] we get to do it with a really, really good data point.”
Performance Data to Count On
During her recent presentation for the Collegiate and Professional Sports Dieticians Association (CPSDA), entitled “Unlocking New Insights with Anthropometric Data”, Carlson-Phillips went deeper into reviewing specific DXA data from the most recent NFL Combine. An evaluation of 51 players found that nearly 50% had a right-left lean mass asymmetry of over 5%, and 18% had an asymmetry between 7.5% – 10%. Additionally, 4%, or two future NFL players, had asymmetries of over 10%.1
As discussed during part one of our conversation with Carlson-Phillips, asymmetries are correlated with decreased reaction time and higher rates of injury. DXA can be used to help evaluate recovery from injury and performance by looking at differences between left and right limbs,1 which can be crucial during a high-stakes training operation like the Combine. The ability to detect these asymmetries with Discovery DXA system allowed the Exos team to help athletes improve performance and prevent injuries through custom training plans, making all the difference during post-Combine scouting.
While the use of Discovery DXA system during the Combine has already led to benefits in terms of accuracy and comprehension of metrics, Carlson-Phillips also explained the possibilities are still open for how it will continue to improve the program in the future. “The way that we were thinking about [DXA] and utilizing it within the program this year specifically, it really gave our team a much more high-fidelity and confident understanding of what the lean body and fat mass were, and how we could monitor change from our training and nutrition and recovery protocols and make sure the athlete was progressing as needed. But most interesting [are] these smaller pieces of data that we’re able to now go and look at the profiling to really think about how [they] will change programming in the future.” It seems fair to say when it comes to DXA’s applications for the NFL Combine, Exos is just getting warmed up.
A Game Plan for Continued Innovation
While comprehensive data collection is essential to the modern age of human performance, as put by Carlson-Phillips, “You can’t just collect data for data’s sake.” In addition to continuing to improve the fidelity of the data collected in Exos’ facilities, she mentioned several areas for future research and exploration.
This includes investigating the causative/correlative relationship of performance data across areas such as movement skills, movement efficiency, and diving deeper into lean body mass asymmetry. Next-level conversations for the industry also include further investigation into how these lean body asymmetries correlate with performance and injury risk, as well as research into potentially establishing a unique “movement signature” that could be prescriptive across the team’s entire performance methodology.1
Put more simply, when asked where she thinks the industry is headed, Carlson-Phillips emphasized “the future is the integration of these data points to tell a more holistic story.” Luckily, that’s exactly what DXA is able to help with. “The ability to have objective data from DXA that’s best in class … is what I think the future is,” she added.
We’re excited about DXA in the pro-athlete realm, and know that the questions above are just the start of what’s on the horizon for the technology. Reach out to a rep to learn more about how Hologic® DXA system can help you meet your goals, both on and off the field.
*Rx Only – use of the Discovery DXA system is restricted by or on the order of a physician.
- Carlson-Phillips A. Unlocking New Insights & Conversations with Anthropometric Data. CPSDA 2022 poster presentation.
- Shepherd et al, Body Composition by DXA, Bone (2017)
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